If you’ve got an F-150 truck, you’ve likely noticed that the factory exhaust, while perfectly functional, doesn’t have the best sound. Fortunately, there are a lot of exhaust systems that can create a variety of exhaust notes and even improve the performance of your pickup.
Aftermarket exhaust systems are all very different, and it’s worthwhile to spend a little time thinking about what you want out of your exhaust, besides just a better sound. We’ve put together some of the most important choices you’ll have to make regarding your exhaust as well as a little bit about the most popular exhaust manufacturers.
Axle-Back vs Cat-Back Exhaust
Though these two terms may sound complicated, they really aren’t. An axle-back system replaces everything from your rear axle to your exhaust tip. A cat-back system replaces everything from your catalytic converter to your exhaust tips.
The pros and cons here are very straight forward. Axle-back systems are a little easier to install, but when it comes to performance improvements, cat-back systems offer more substantive gains both in terms of power and sound. Cat-back and axle-back systems are pretty evenly popular for most vehicles, but for pickups in particular cat-back systems are vastly preferred.
Though it is more work to install a cat-back system, it’s hard to argue that it’s not worth the additional time when you see the major difference in performance.
Depending on where you live, different laws may exist regarding exhaust noises. California’s exhaust laws are the most famous example of this, but there are even some cities with specific ordinances regarding exhaust.
How much you care about 50-state legal depends on where you live, where you drive, and how much you plan to push your truck while in neighborhoods, but it is something to consider when you’re planning out your exhaust system. Tickets can add up pretty quickly, and no one wants to build an incredible exhaust only to not be able to use it.
Even if you do live in a very restrictive area, there are 50-state legal systems that can improve your exhaust note and increase your performance without leading to a hefty ticket.
Side vs Rear Exit
If you tow a lot, it’s likely you don’t want a rear exit exhaust for all the obvious reasons. You’ll be blowing exhaust right into your trailer, which will cause it to accumulate exhaust “dust.” Other concerns include breathing if you’re transporting passengers in your trailer.
A side exhaust will also sound louder, though some F-150 drivers with exceptional hearing noted that it felt like you could only hear half of the engine out of the side exit.
Rear exit exhausts tend to have a more mellow note since the exhaust travels a longer distance.
There are a lot of options with regards to where you have the side exhaust come out and whether or not you wanted to look at dual tips or single that will also have an effect on the exhaust note as well as the overall appearance of your truck.
A lot of exhaust systems will feature mandrel bent piping. This just means that instead of being compressed in order to turn the pipe is partially compressed and partially extended. This keeps the diameter of the pipe open and consistent, decreasing back pressure that can build up and negatively impact your truck’s power.
AWE Exhaust Systems
AWE’s mission statement is to unlock performance, and to that end they’ve created a large range of exhaust systems to give the F-150 the kind of growl that a pickup should have. Whether you’re in an F-150 EcoBoost or even a Raptor, AWE has an exhaust solution that can improve your sound and performance.
For an aggressive, deep, exhaust sound, AWE makes a cat-back exhaust system with dual rear exit. This is a simple, bolt-on installation that can be completed with ease. The thing that makes this cat-back different than comparable systems is the drone-canceling feature that AWE has added. If you want a smoother sound, you can add on the AWE resonated mid-pipe (or, conversely, if you want a little extra rumble then they’ve also made a non-resonated mid-pipe option).
AWE makes both rear and side exit exhaust systems, making them a perfect choice no matter what your F-150 towing setup looks like.
Borla Exhaust Systems
Borla has been making exhaust systems for a long time, and consequently, they have an abundance of options. Though Borla prides itself on its use of exotic materials, most of the exhaust systems for the F-150 are made out of stainless steel.
Stainless steel is popular for aftermarket parts for a variety of reasons, but for off-roading, the light, rust-resistant material is ideal.
Most of Borla’s exhaust options for F-150s are focused on providing an aggressive and powerful rumble. If you’re worried that a cat-back system on its own won’t be able to provide enough of a sound improvement, Borla also makes mid-pipes that can help to push your exhaust sound into more growl-like territory.
Corsa also offers an abundance of exhaust system options. Like AWE, Corsa offers technology designed to reduce the dreaded exhaust drone so that you can enjoy a great sounding exhaust.
Though Corsa offers many full exhaust systems, they also offer individual exhaust components. Some of the many options you’ll find with Corsa include substantial muffler upgrades as well as exhaust tips that allow for a customizable look.
Most of Corsa’s options feature mandrel bent tubing as a way of ensuring that you’re getting the entirety of the promised performance boost.
Flowmaster Exhaust Systems
Flowmaster exhausts are well-loved in the truck community, and for good reason. As a part of Holley, a well-known and trusted aftermarket performance part company, Flowmaster has years of experience and a great reputation backing their products.
Flowmaster aims to be the “exhaust technology company” and they work hard to test their products and establish their performance benefits methodically. In addition to a great lineup of exhaust systems, you can also find replacement mufflers with Flowmaster.
Ford Performance Exhausts
Ford Performance is essentially what SVT evolved into. If you dream of turning your F-150 into a Raptor-like machine with OEM appearance and aftermarket roaring, then you’ll likely find exactly what you need with Ford Performance’s exhaust systems.
Ford Performance does collaborate with aftermarket tuners to make some of their exhaust systems, so if you have your heart set on a Borla but love the look of the Ford Performance systems, then you’re in luck.
If you’re interested in legality, then Ford Performance also has the largest selection of fifty-state legal exhaust systems.
Gibson focuses predominantly on performance rather than a loud sound. A family company, Gibson focuses on making an exhaust that’s “quieter in the cab” while still offering performance gains over the stock exhaust.
Gibson also offers a wide variety of aesthetic choices and selections, so if you’re really interested in personalizing your truck or have a very specific vision for how you would like for it to look once you’re finished with modifications then Gibson is a great brand to look at.
Magnaflow exhaust systems aim to hit the critical trifecta: Quality, power, and sound. Magnaflow has a variety of exhaust options, including some that are specifically designed to work best off-road. These exhaust systems are going to have the most components that aren’t legal in all fifty states, but if off-road performance is your primary objective in upgrading your exhaust system then Magnaflow deserves your consideration.
With exhaust, the fewer obstacles the better, and consequently a straight-through exhaust is very desirable for those off-roaders who really need low-torque and who don’t travel particularly fast on the highway or commute in their vehicle.
If you’re not looking for an off-roading specific exhaust system, Magnaflow still has a lot of options that are worth considering.
MBRP Exhaust Systems
MBRP has enough options to appease even the pickiest exhaust fanatic. Whether you drive an EcoBoost or a 5.0L, there are options available for every F-150. In particular, MBRP has many race-series, aluminized, and sleek exhaust systems that are perfect for the truck enthusiast that wants a great sound and a quick pickup.
Not every truck is an off-roader, and MBRP’s exhausts have a sleek look. The F-150 is the most popular truck in America and it makes sense that there are exhausts to fit every possible use and look.
There are so many F-150 exhaust systems that it’s impossible to declare any specific one the “best.” Rather, each system offers a unique blend of appearance, performance, and sound benefits and which one is right for you comes down to personal taste.
These are some of our favorite exhausts, but you can find more F-150 exhausts, installation instructions and videos, and more right here at CJ Pony Parts.